Roughly half of American households contain a first aid kit. Businesses, boats, schools and campgrounds almost always have one nearby. Parents of young children are especially diligent about keeping emergency supplies on hand for those inevitable consequences of misadventure. But what about pet parents? Do you have the necessary first aid supplies for your pet?
Before getting into the specifics of what your pet’s first aid kit should include, it’s important to emphasize that first aid is not a substitute for proper veterinary care. First aid is simply a stop-gap measure intended to keep a bad situation from getting worse. After administering any type of first aid, always see your veterinarian for follow-up care. A pet who seems to have bounced back may be suffering from internal injuries, or incubating an infection. These conditions are not obvious to the untrained eye, and can cause your pet to decompensate very quickly. But when accidents happen, you need to act quickly. Having a first aid kit just for Fluffy can help us to stay calm, and think clearly in a stressful situation.
Here is a list of the items inside the pet first aid kit at Casa Kupkee:
● Printout of directions to your vet’s office, as well as the nearest emergency clinic. Yes, we know the way to our own hospital. And yes, we know how to get to the closest emergency clinic. But the first aid kit isn’t exclusively for us. It’s for the house-sitter who stays with our pets when we travel. Likewise, you may find other family members or pet-sitters are not as familiar with these routes as you are. Even if you know where these places are located, it can be difficult to think clearly in a life or death situation. Include written directions, as well as maps, since not everyone processes information in the same way.
● Phone number for a pet poison control call center. We recommend the Pet Poison Helpline, 855-764-7661. As of this writing, there is a nominal, per incident fee for this service.
● Hydrogen peroxide and a needle-free syringe. If you don’t have a syringe, a turkey baster will do the trick as well. This is used for the induction of vomiting. Never do this without first consulting your veterinarian or emergency clinic, as some compounds are dangerous enough to cause a second round of damage when leaving the body. Do not use peroxide on a cut or wound, as this will impede healing and cause scars.
● Unflavored pediatric electrolyte replacer. This can help a pet who has been vomiting replace necessary electrolytes. Since many pets do not like the taste, spike it with reduced fat, low sodium chicken broth. In addition to enticing them to drink the solution, it will provide them with some protein. Do not use electrolyte replacers that have been sweetened with Xylitol.
● Iodine solution. This is a better alternative to peroxide for disinfecting wounds. But we warned - it is dark red, and will stain fabric. Crate your pet after applying to protect carpets, beds, clothing, and furniture.
● Tweezers. Use these to remove stingers, ticks, and thorns.
● Styptic Powder. Sometimes sold under the brand name “Kwik Stop”, this yellow powder is sold online and at pet stores, and can be applied to a broken nail to stop the bleeding. If you don’t have styptic powder, corn starch will do in a pinch.
● QuikClot. This is a type of compress sold online, and at many pharmacies. It can be applied to larger, more serious wounds to help stop bleeding. If you need to use this, you need to get to a vet quickly! Secure the compress with bandaging tape and start driving.
● Karo Syrup. Just a drop of this household staple can be used to raise the blood sugar of a hypoglycemic pet. You can find it in the baking aisle of any grocery store.
● An Elizabethan collar. Ah yes, the cone of shame. I know - pets hate them. Pet parents hate them. My dogs hate them too. But a rash or an eye-ulcer that presents on a Saturday will only get worse if your pet can scratch it. If you’re willing to endure a weekend with an e-collar, that Monday morning vet visit might not be as expensive.
● Bandaging materials, blunt-tipped scissors and gauze for wrapping wounds.
● Sterile eyewash. Purchase this over the counter at any pharmacy or grocery store.
● Veterinary ear rinse
● Rubber-tipped, flexible rectal thermometer, along with a water-based lubricant. Be sure to ask your vet what a normal temperature is for your pet. Do not be alarmed if the device starts flashing “fever” warnings. The most comfortable, over-the-counter thermometers are designed for human babies. A dog or cat’s normal, resting body temperature will always be substantially higher than a human’s. Generally speaking, 100.0 to 102.9 is considered normal.
● Handling devices. Frightened, injured animals can be unpredictable. A pet that would never dream of biting, scratching, or bolting may do just that in an emergency. Cats should be placed in carriers or pillowcases. If they will not comply, swaddle them tightly in a towel. Often dubbed the “kitty burrito method”, this humane handling technique has a calming effect which can lower blood pressure, stem bleeding, and keep a handler safe. A basket muzzle, or cage muzzle, is a humane way to make sure an injured dog can pant or vomit, yet not be able to bite its handler. Make sure a dog in distress is leashed or harnessed.
● Towels and latex gloves. First aid can be messy. And an old towel is the perfect ingredient for making that kitty burrito!
Place everything in a durable, waterproof box and decide where it is going to be placed. Make sure it is easily accessible, and that its placement makes sense. Brief everyone in the household on its location, and do not move it!
It’s important for pet owners to be aware of their own behavior during an emergency. Pets take their cues from us, and if we panic, they will do the same. A pet who is dealing with an accelerated heartbeat, rapid respiration, or a bleeding wound must relax to avoid dangerous spikes in blood pressure. Stay calm, don’t shout, don’t waste time, and try to find someone who can help you. If someone who is NOT driving can call the vet ahead of time, precious minutes can be saved. During a recent toad poisoning emergency, a pet owner’s ten-year-old daughter called our clinic, briefly stated the nature of the emergency, and the approximate weight of the dog. By the time her mother arrived with the dog, all of the necessary drugs were dosed, and ready to administer. This was an especially severe poisoning that might not have ended well were it not for this young girl’s fast thinking and cool head. Never underestimate your kids’ abilities to stay calm and provide genuine help.
Make sure you have an emergency plan, and that the entire family has been briefed on it. Clients always marvel at our ability to stay calm during emergencies. The secret is simply training and preparation. While we might make it look easy, it is in fact, a learned skill. And that means you can do it too!
Dr. Kupkee is the owner and lead practitioner at Sabal Chase Animal Clinic.